We were on the lookout for somewhere interesting to go and see. I was there in Budapest just for a couple of days and my friends wanted to take us somewhere besides the typical ruin bar (of course we would do that too). So during dinner, the thought came up...
"Why don't we start at an art market?" one friend said.
"Will there be live music there?" I asked. Two things that usually get me out somewhere is live music and free booze.
"I think so," she said. "But it's an art show, so there will definitely be free booze."
"Okay, I'm in."
the front of Painter's Palace
So we headed down to Painter's Palace, an underground, kind of hidden joint in Jozsefvaros. They do a lot of various art functions, like showings, life drawings, creative writing clubs, and all sorts of creative artsy workshop stuff. When we were there, there was an art market there, where local artists would display their work, hopefully sell it, and happily talk about it with any curious folk.
the art market event at Painter's Palace
The artist that really caught my eye that night was a calligraphy artist by the name of Fahad Aliyu. He had a lot of the traditional Arabic calligraphy, but even more interesting to me were his calligraphic pieces of Michael Jackson. He gave me his card and wrote my name on it all fancy-like, and we exchanged emails and had an e-chat.
Calligraphy is a really interesting world to me, in part because maybe I don't know much about it. In the Western world, it seemed to me to be pretty much limited to illuminating religious texts--and since we've no prohibition on drawing and sculptures, religious art tended to go that way--and graffiti. Plus, our alphabet perhaps isn't the best for illumination anyway.
In the Islamic world, they did have a stricter prohibition on what was acceptable as religious art and what wasn't, leading into a centuries-long foray into the development of script as not just translation, but as art itself. When you go to mosques or other buildings throughout the Middle East, you can see so many pieces of flowing letters that even the image itself looks poetic, and it's certainly a fascinating aspect of Islamic culture to me.
But anyway, this interview doesn't really touch on religion, and I don't mean it to.
It's about Fahad Aliyu, an architecture student from Nigeria who spent much of his later youth in Italy and now studies in Budapest, where he also practices and teaches calligraphy.
I plan on doing more interviews like this of other travelers and expats that I meet along the way, so hopefully you enjoy.
Let me introduce you to Fahad Aliyu:
Fahad Aliyu standing in front of some of his work
Saint: How did you get started in calligraphy? What's your main influence or inspiration?
Fahad Aliyu: I’ve always loved writing since I was a little kid. I was and still am obsessed with my handwriting, always striving to make it better one way or the other. On the other hand I really love letters and see them from a different view unlike the average person, I have a way of analysing them structurally, I feel connected to letters every time I’m writing. In mid April 2015 I was going through my Facebook feed and came a cross this video which showed an artist called Seb Lester recreating famous brand logos using calligraphy. I was not only amazed but blown away so I said to myself; "if this guy can do it, I definitely can” I got a few brush pens and decided to give it a try. Since then I stuck to it and haven’t looked backed or paused for a second. So Seb Lester influenced me from the very beginning, but gradually developing as an artist, I’m inspired by a lot of things around me, starting from myself, memories of the past, my thoughts and visions about the future, friends and family, architecture, but my favourite source of inspiration is nature.
In what way does nature inspire you?
I’ve always found mother nature fascinating. Mainly because of the sheer freedom. You cannot limit a tree for example; to how tall it can grow or how wide it can spread its roots, it’s simply impossible. Its leaves grow and wither, and the cycle continues. I tend to set my mind loose when I’m searching for ideas or inspiration for my art, especially when I’m bored and want to try something different. Which is why I often peep into nature, I try to be very dynamic. Just like the leaves when they wither, I’m always ready to start afresh and never scared of trying something new. This is important to improve and develop yourself as an artist. This is the main reason why spring is my favourite season of the year. To see the rebirth of plants and their blossoming colours is simply magical.
You mention later that you study architecture... do you feel a connection between the art of letters and the art of architecture? What led you down the path to study architecture? Was that a choice you made before or after your interest in calligraphy?
I feel the strong relation between architecture and calligraphy (at least from my point of view). Although architecture is a completely different world of its own, you have to think in a different dimension, to view things in a more intricate way than the normal human does. I like to say architecture is about bringing a conceptual idea to reality as opposed to calligraphy where you’re dealing with already existing forms. I’m currently working on an interesting series called “callitecture”, mixture of calligraphy and architecture. I came up with it because I want to create the fusion of both. It’s inspired by my admiration for Leonardo Da Vinci.
When I was much younger in junior high school, I loved drawing. I had a collection of sketchbooks filled with colourful comic drawings of superheroes. Later I fell in love with technical drawing and also realised I love making and repairing things. Whenever I had an idea to create something I would gather scrap materials and give it a try, whether it turned out successful or not. I guess that’s the spirit I still possess till today. I had a few creative projects that I was very proud of and as I grew older I realised architecture was the way to go. I always wondered how a human mind could think of something as huge as a building and actually see to it that it was built. My curiosity kept increasing and I kept fueling it, and here we are a now!
Are there any other calligraphy artists whose work inspires you?
Yes, the likes of Pokras Lampas (a crazy Russian guy who currently has the world record of the largest calligraphy piece, made on a rooftop in Moscow); Vincent Abadi Hafiz (Zepha), a French calligraffiti artist; eLseed, a French Tunisian artist who does Arabic calligraffiti; Cryptik, a mandala artist whose works are based mainly on meditation, the soul and spirit. I discovered all these artists and a lot more through Calligraphy Masters, the largest online platform for calligraphers and lettering artists.
I had to look up the work on those guys, but those are some really amazing artists. You can definitely see the link between architecture and letters, especially in Hafiz's work. Do you contemplate doing things along that vein when you'll be designing visual spaces?
Absolutely. My biggest inspiration when it comes to murals is elSeed. I see myself separating the two, but still under the same umbrella. I envision myself like Da Vinci, but a simpler version. Artist, architect and engineer. I’m working on harmonising them all in one package to dish out to the public in the future.
calligraphy meets structure
You do a lot of Michael Jackson pictures. How did you get so interested in MJ?
Growing up, MJ was my role model. I dressed like him and danced like him, he inspired me to always keep my white socks clean and my black shoes polished, all thanks to my dad who introduced my brother and I to him. I’m proud to say I have the coolest father on earth. He would buy us MJ disks that contained a compilation of his music videos, and we would all sit together and watch him execute all those sick dance moves. My dad would play us Bob Marley songs while traveling on long journeys and tell us stories of how they loved him when they were youths, while deciphering the lyrics. So my best way of keeping all these memories alive are through calligraphy. Sometimes I write famous quotes or lyrics by these legends, but making a whole picture calligram of Michael Jackson for example, is a way of visualising the childhood memories that I can’t let go of.
As an American, I'm always fascinated by the pieces of American culture that spread out through the world and were picked up, like how Jackson is popular still in a lot of countries. I remember when he died, I was in Georgia, and I think it impacted the local Georgians more than any of the Americans that I knew! As a musician myself, I find a certain fondness for Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen, since my dad was also playing them a lot when we took trips to their home in Louisiana. Where were you taking trips with your father to when you were young? And is your recreation of MJ somehow a tribute to your father as well?
I had frequent visits to many Doctors due to a health issue I was struggling with when I was much younger. These appointments were often in a different cities, many hours drive from where we lived. So I embarked on lots of journeys with my dad. This was when I listened to tracks by Bob Marley and MJ, and several other trips within Nigeria. So yes the MJ recreation is a tribute to him. For my next exhibition I intend to make a Bob Marley portrait as well.
What brought you to Budapest?
I lived in Rome, Italy prior to Budapest, where I completed high school and Hungary was suggested by a family friend as a reputable country with good universities. So I came to Budapest, and I’m currently studying Architectural Engineering at Budapest University Of Technology And Economics (BME).
So which feels more home to you now? Budapest, Rome, or where you grew up?
They all feel like home since my growing up was divided between these places almost equally because we moved a lot. But if I was to choose one, it’ll be my home town of Bida, Niger State, Nigeria simply because it has the most memories for me personally. That’s where I learnt how to read the Qur’an, to read and write Arabic as well. The skills which I still possess till date. Each of these places hold their memories but Bida is more special because it defines my originality, I’m very conservative when it comes to my culture. I was born there and I made the transition from an infant to a toddler before eventually moving to the capital city.
How did you get your work posted here at Painter's Palace?
I was scrolling through public events on Facebook (I always do that to find art events or exhibitions to attend) and I came across the art market event at painter's palace. I thought it was a good opportunity to sell my art work, meet several artists and get more connections and exposure.
more of Fahad's work
Do you do a lot of showings around Budapest?
Yes I do. My main event is usually the wild art exhibition which takes place every six weeks (the next is on the 14th of April). It's an amazing idea which was brought to life by a young genius artist. A non-profit, one night only exhibition that gives upcoming artists of various specialties the opportunity to showcase their work to the public, each event is hosted at a different location. It has been gaining a lot of recognition on Facebook and within Budapest in general, we see the attendance increasing with each event and thousands interested on Facebook, I'm very glad to be part of this movement.
Where is the next wild art exhibition? And what's their facebook page?
The next exhibition is at Patyolat in the 8th district of Budapest. Their face page is ‘Vad Art Kiallitas’. Hungarian for Wild Art Exhibition. Same for their Instagram page.
You mention doing workshops. Tell me about those.
The first workshop I had was with a non profit-organization known as Artemisszio together with a volunteering organization called "Open Doors”. We had a combined calligraphy and textile printing workshop which was a fun experience. Then I got hired by Prezi.hu to teach their staff, and I've continued giving workshops at Open Doors since I'm a part of it myself. Also recently, a new student activity we created among international BME students called blank; a scene where students with talents mainly beneficial to us architecture students, can share their skills freely with others by teaching it, we launched this in February and we hold sessions every Saturday. I'm glad everyone interested in calligraphy is taking it seriously and willing to learn. I’m always ready to share my knowledge with as many people as possible, because I believe calligraphy is a fading art form that needs to be revived.
Tell me more about your Artemisszio and Open Doors. What do you do with them? What are their missions?
The Artemisszió Foundation has been operating since 1998 as a non-profit organization of public interest. The founders were young anthropologists who wanted to apply their theoretical knowledge and the results of their scientific research to foster social and personal development and open-minded thinking. The Artemisszió Foundation is aiming to achieve its goals through the research, promotion and use of the theory and practice of intercultural communication.
Open Doors on the other hand is a volunteering organisation that helps migrants and refugees. Their program aims to ensure that refugee young people are successfully integrated into the Hungarian society, developing self-expression tools and quality relationships. They also organise creative workshops and youth exchange programs. I participated in an amazing youth exchange program last August which involved participants from 5 countries (I was part of the Hungarian team) usually with a theme (last year’s was change for media). And at the end we learnt how to produce videos in a professional way. Composition and technicality, shooting and editing up till final production. Our videos were later broadcasted on national TV. It was an amazing program which I’ll love to experience again. Though intensive, but very well worth it. The videos can be watched on youtube if you search for “Change for media 2017”. Thanks to Open Doors Hungary, Erasmus+ and SCI europe.
How can people get in touch with you and see your work?
I'm available on Facebook and Instagram with the handle @falligraphy. I can also be contacted via My email address which is firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I feel people should look deeper into themselves and find that one thing they love to do, what makes you feel alive. What raises your heartbeat anytime you think about doing it, work on it constantly and strive to improve yourself always. You might have a talent but waste it by not exploring ways to build it up. Stay open minded and take criticisms as part of the improvement procedure (especially for artists) because we're not perfect and neither is our art.
Thank you again Fahad, and best of luck to you in the coming future!